Putin’s vaccine meets opposition from frontline workers in Russia


How would he know this? Because the Russian President revealed one of his daughters had already taken it.

Speaking on Russian state TV at the time, Putin said his daughter had a slightly higher temperature after each dose of the two-stage coronavirus vaccine, but that “Now she feels well.”

Russian authorities have singled out teachers — as well as doctors — as key workers who will get access to the vaccine first, even before crucial phase 3 human trials have finished.

But that’s not gone down well with some sections of these frontline workers who don’t buy Putin’s claims of the efficacy of the vaccine and are reluctant to be used as human guinea pigs.

On September 1, Russian classrooms reopened for the first time since March amid the Covid-19 pandemic — the same day the country surpassed 1 million coronavirus cases. Teachers were meant to be among the first to benefit from Russia’s new coronavirus vaccine, especially given the close contact with hundreds of children that they are exposed to on a daily basis. But CNN is learning that few — if any — have so far taken up the offer to be vaccinated.

Russia's Covid-19 vaccine generated an immune response, study says

Developed by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute, the Sputnik-V vaccine was named after the surprise 1957 launch of the world’s first satellite by the Soviet Union.

Russia’s claim of victory at being the first to approve a coronavirus vaccine in a worldwide pandemic was initially met with widespread concern and unanswered questions over its safety and effectiveness, and not just from outside the country.

A Russian teachers’ union, “Uchitel,” started an online petition calling on members to reject the vaccine outright on safety grounds, and expressing concern that vaccination — currently voluntary — should not be made mandatory unless clinical trials are complete.

Employees walk on May 20 in a passage at the headquarters of Russia's biotech company BIOCAD, which has been working on a vaccine against the coronavirus.

Reality can differ from promises

Yuri Varlamov, a teacher in Moscow and a member of the union, said he doesn’t want to take the vaccine because he doesn’t believe it is safe right now.

“Before the end of trials, they cannot make it mandatory. But I know that in some schools and state bodies, people are talking about mandatory status of this vaccine by the end of this year,” Varlamov said.

Marina Balouyeva, co-chairman of the “Uchitel” union, said a petition against compulsory vaccination for teachers was more of a precaution.

Balouyeva said she is wary of Sputnik-V for several reasons. “Firstly, it is generally known that the quality of domestic vaccines is worse than that of foreign ones,” she said.

“Secondly, the vaccine was created at railway speed, which already raises concerns. It was created in haste.”

Despite promises from authorities that taking the vaccine will be voluntary, she said she fears things could go differently in reality, as often happens in Russian state institutions.

Russia says coronavirus vaccine trials to move forward with 40,000 people

Balouyeva said no complaints have yet been made to her union from teachers saying they are being forced to be vaccinated. However, previous experience indicates there have been such problems with other vaccines, she says.

For example, officially, the seasonal flu shot is not mandatory for Russian educational workers — it is voluntary. But according to Balouyeva some schools require it from their employees without fail.

Whether there will be sanctions on those unwilling to be vaccinated with Sputnik-V, depends on the headteacher. Most schools have a so-called “incentive bonus” — a fund of money that the administration can distribute as they see fit. Some teachers could be deprived of this payment if they don’t get the vaccine.

Balouyeva is all too familiar with the consequences that follow if you go against the school administration.

Having successfully worked for 15 years as an English teacher at a correctional school for children with cerebral palsy in St. Petersburg, Balouyeva says she was fired last year for an “unexplained absence” for not working during a school holiday.

It happened shortly after she was publicly vocal about teachers’ salaries being lower than figures published in official documents.

“Teachers are a very disenfranchised category, just like doctors,” the former teacher said, adding that the temptation to test the vaccine on them is immense. “It is both cheap and practical — why not do it, from the point of view of the authorities?”

CNN was given access by local authorities to one of Moscow’s top public schools, where some measures — like testing and teachers in facemasks — have been implemented.

But no one CNN spoke to at School 1363 said they had taken the vaccine, although theysay they will “definitely” do so soon. Deputy head Maria Zatolokina said: “I think that every teacher understands how important it is to be safe and to create a safe environment for our students to be healthy. That’s why I hope that we are responsible people, and we should [all] be vaccinated.”

Political pressure

Critics such as Anastasia Vasilyeva, a Russian doctor turned prominent campaigner and ally of Russian opposition leader Alexey…



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